Study Guide

Parable of the Sower Slavery

By Octavia E. Butler

Slavery

So, slavery in the United States was abolished after the Civil War, right?

Yeah, not so fast. In Octavia Butler's near-future sci-fi novel Parable of the Sower, there are various types of slavery taking place all over again: we've got debt slavery, marital slavery, pretty much everything but plantation slavery (and who knows, that may even be happening somewhere). People might argue that these aren't tantamount to what was taking place for Black folks prior to 1865, but what does Lauren Olamina, the novel's narrator, have to say about that? Just what does it mean to own another person, anyway?

Questions About Slavery

  1. How does money function in Parable of the Sower? Which characters have access to money, and how much money, and at what times? How does income level or access to money affect who gets taken seriously and who isn't?
  2. What different perspectives on slavery or servitude do characters have? For instance, if Emery and Zahra were to debate the worth of living with a controlling husband, what might they say? What about the same debate, but between Lauren and Bankole? Or between Lauren's father and Cory?
  3. How does the depiction of slavery in Parable of the Sower relate to the world of today? Consider, for instance, labor by prisoners in the United States, who are sometimes paid than a quarter per hour and sometimes not paid at all.
  4. How does the depiction of slavery in Parable of the Sower compare with the depiction of it in other sci-fi novels?
  5. Is economic power over someone the same thing as coercive power? What about persuasive power over someone, such as a friend or lover? Is that a type of coercion as well? If so, is all coercion necessarily bad?

Chew on This

Debt slavery, marital slavery, and other types of slavery exist and are real forms of slavery today.

Slavery only refers to a situation in which one person owns another person.

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